A Murmuration of Cheese Balls: when nature enters the Uncanny Valley

Murmuration, in addition to being a perfectly lovely word, also captures one of the most wonderful phenomena one can encounter in nature. Behold, one of the loveliest viral videos of recent years:

Did you get goosebumps?

Thomas Jackson’s series “Emergent Behavior,” with its clever, irreverent portrayals of flocking behavior, both evokes and pokes fun at the majesty of the murmuration. Jackson’s swarms of quotidian, inanimate objects, like Post-it notes and Solo cups, gather for inscrutable purposes: a cloud of glowsticks on a beach (is it glowstick mating season?), or Post-its suspended like fireflies in a thin band just above the summer grass, or the colony of cheese balls below, perhaps in search of a new hive:

Emergent Behavior: Cheese Balls,
Thomas Jackson

Jackson’s patterns are evocative of natural, biological phenomena; placed in a natural setting, they seem both eerie and humorous. Jackson says he intends to “tap into the fear and fascination” evoked by murmurations and other self-organizing biological phenomena. It’s an interesting turn of phrase: we are fascinated by these phenomena, but do we “fear” them? Does the transmutation of individual starlings into a wooshing thunderhead on fast-forward actually terrify us?

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Posted in Artists & Art, Biology, Ephemera, Film, Video & Music, Neuroscience, Science, Web 2.0, New Media, and Gadgets, Wonder Cabinets, Yikes! | Comments Off

BioE is so redundant right now

Steam of Consciousness by Chris Conte (updated: look! I found a moving .gif on the artist’s website! It’s at the bottom of the post).

It’s really amazing to me how mainstream anatomical art, steampunk, etc. has become in the past few years – there really is no need for BioE anymore, which is good because as you’ve noticed, I’m not updating it enough. I promise there will be posts shortly. But in the meantime, HuffPo now covers skull art. And the skull above, by Chris Conte (a BioE favorite from way back) is apparently a FUNCTIONING MODEL STEAM ENGINE. What???

I’m also impressed by the organosteampunk work of Eric Freitas, whose deconstructed sculptures look like the clock version of a sprouting potato, with Tim Burton-esque tendrils unfurling like little roots:

Eric Frietas
Mechanical #5, 2008

Via HuffPo [link sent by my friend Andrew]: “Steampunkinetics,” AFA in Soho until September 2, 2012:

An emerging art movement, a creative design solution, a community and a culture; Steampunk is part philosophy and part Victorian Industrial aesthetic. It is a re-imagining of two distinct time periods and the fanciful and functional inventions that are produced. What if the Victorian or Industrial age happened at the same time as our modern or information age – what would have been produced in inventions, innovations, art and gadgets? That is Steampunk.

“Steampunkinetics” includes works by Tanya Clarke, Chris Conte, Eric Freitas, Josh Kinsey, Pierre Matter, Chris Osborne, Steve LaRiccia, Bruce Rosenbaum, Mark Eliot Schwabe, Wayne Strattman, Gary Sullivan, Roger Wood, Dale Mathis, Alan Rorie, Doug Meyer, Thomas Truax, Thomas Willeford, Bud Scheffel and Russel Anderson.

Posted in Artists & Art, Biology, Blogs and Blogging, Medical Illustration and History, Wonder Cabinets | Comments Off

To Mac users of MS Word

Just posting this as a public service: if you are using Word on a Mac running Lion, and every time you print a document you get an annoying extra page of gobbledygook, go to the Print settings in Word’s Preferences, and uncheck “Document Properties.”

I have no idea when they changed this default, but apparently they felt the need to kill trees. (I also don’t know if it affects PC users as well).


Posted in Department of the Drama | Comments Off

Reminder: Follow BioE on Twitter

Hope you’re having a great summer! Sorry the blog is so dead! I’m so busy right now, my brain is scrambled. (That can sometimes be a good feeling — but not so much this time.)

I have a few draft posts started, some from months ago, but for now I’m just quickly pushing any good sciart, scilaw, and sciculture links I find to Twitter, rather than blogging them. Follow at @bioephemera if you’re interested. Alternatively, follow the Self Aware Roomba, because. . . well, that should be self explanatory. :)

Happy summer!

Posted in Department of the Drama | Comments Off

A truly great comment policy

I quit having comments long ago because I barely have time to post (as the timestamp on my last few posts demonstrates) much less weed out spam and deal with trolls. But if I did have a comment policy, I’d steal this one:

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

Found at The Big Picture.

PS. You may also want to read Sean Carroll’s [non] comment policy for Cosmic Variance.

Posted in Blogs and Blogging, Frivolity, Web 2.0, New Media, and Gadgets | Comments Off

Trying to balance big things

Alas, I have been in this state for a few weeks – too many big things to balance. I’ll post again soon.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Of Money and Science: Two Book Reviews

Paula Stephan’s observation that “not all science is created equal when it comes to funding” will not surprise any researcher who ever labored over a grant. Drugmonkey’s blog is a particularly good source of insight into how the NIH grant process works; given the importance of public funding to basic science, life science has been fortunate in receiving a disproportionate share, and arguably more than its fair share (depending on who you ask) of public money. Part of the drive to fund basic research comes out of an oft-repeated fear that the US is falling behind in the production of scientists and engineers. Yet we all know that there are not enough jobs for PhDs, insufficient funding for public universities (which then hike tuition), and PhDs have trouble transferring into jobs outside academia even as they lose interest in academic careers, especially women, who are disproportionately likely to drop out of the tenure chase. What is going wrong?

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Posted in Biology, Book reviews, Books, Conspicuous consumption, Education, Littademia, Science, Science in culture & policy | Comments Off

Coin-operated morticians are not easy to find

Just in case you’ve always wanted a vintage coin-operated morgue diorama with clockwork morticians and mourners, you are totally in luck! Thanks, Morbid Anatomy!

Posted in Medical Illustration and History, Retrotechnology, Yikes! | Comments Off

Histology-Inspired Artist of the Day: Andrea Offerman

Andrea Offerman‘s intricate pen and ink drawings are some hybrid of children’s book illustrations and Hieronymous Bosch-ian anatomical panoramas. Andrea says,

I was always interested in art but hesitant to make it my profession. I studied medicine for a few years and was fascinated especially by anatomy and histology (microscopic anatomy of cells and tissues); the intricate ways in which a body is put together and functions, the solutions nature comes up with to ensure certain processes, and the beauty within the patterns and networks that make everything happen surprised me. That fascination is still there. My love for the organic and an interest for evolutionary and scientific themes always play a part in my work. (source: Don’t Panic)

I guess that explains what looks like people picnicking and climbing around on a long strip of partly dissected dragon!

I’ve been asked a few times whether it’s worth leaving science to do art, and although I haven’t done it myself and can’t speak to it, apparently Andrea’s quite happy with her choice to abandon medical school for art school. Read the rest of Andrea’s interview at Don’t Panic, and another interview at Juxtapoz.

Posted in Artists & Art, Biology, Medical Illustration and History | Comments Off

Is Starry Night the discovery, or the experiment?

Maria Popova quotes Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the difference between originality in science and in art:

If I discover a scientific idea, surely someone else would’ve discovered the same idea had I not done so. Whereas, look at Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” — if he didn’t paint “Starry Night,” nobody’s gonna paint “Starry Night.” So, in that regard, the arts are more individual to the creative person than a scientific idea is to the one who comes up with it — but, nonetheless, they are both human activities.

Hmmm. I don’t think that’s a helpful way of putting it. Van Gogh wasn’t trying to discover or capture “Starry Night,” the painting. He was trying to discover or capture something intangible by painting Starry Night: a particular aspect of motion, or light, or vastness, or awe, or silence, or delight: who knows? But the painting is the vehicle for the discovery, not the discovery itself; the painting is an experiment, an approximation, a model. And experiments, approximations, and models are personal expressions of a given scientist’s experience and worldview, as well as their historical and cultural context.

Each scientist arrives at a discovery through his or her own circuitous, and original, path. Neither the fact that the natural phenomenon they seek to describe and represent is not “original,” nor that someone else would have gotten there by a different path, should devalue that individual path — any more than the fact that the emotion of delight is not original to, nor solely elicited by, Starry Night should devalue the painting.

Artists certainly have much more room for creativity in their paths than scientists do. But speaking of originality in one vs. originality in the other is to me a red herring, inviting the wrong sorts of comparisons: we shouldn’t expect science to be exactly like art, or exactly not like art. And while I love all the science-art crosstalk going on, sometimes I feel it’s a little too tempting to make analogies that aren’t all that helpful.

But anyway, speaking of Starry Night. . .

Posted in Artists & Art, Film, Video & Music | Comments Off